Trimethylphosphite (TMPi) is an organophosphorus compound used in a large variety of applications, including crop protection, flame retardants, plastics production, childcare products and pharmaceuticals. Whilst TMPi itself requires careful handling (possibility of skin, respiratory tract and eyes irritation) there are no conclusive data on its toxicity on humans health and on environment. However, in current state of the art technologies, the TMPi production involves chemical intermediaries (tertiary ammines) which are all categorized as highly dangerous substances. Additionally the wastewater produced needs to be treated and neutralized chemically, with a consequent negative environmental impact.
At the same time, one of the long-term objectives that Europe is pursuing is to try to find solutions to achieve self-sufficiency on phosphorus, a strategic raw material of which Europe is almost totally dependent on imports (more than 90% of the phosphorus comes from countries outside the EU) and to support sustainable development by of innovative technologies to bring back the production of its products derivatives in Europe.
The LIFE-Trialkyl project will rethinks the TMPi production by avoiding the aforementioned dangerous chemicals, demonstrating a highly sustainable novel and efficient continuous process for the production of TMPi that could make Europe independent from the import of this intermediate.
In June 2016, the pilot plant was set up in Italmatch Chemicals production plant located in Arese (Milano). The technological innovation consists in the use of a prototype of a continuous software monitored process cycle based on PCl3 and alcohols. It is an alternative to the current production processes, based mainly on tertiary amines and phenyl derivatives, for the production of trialkylphosphites, with particular attention to trimethylfosphite. The criticalities concern the technological development of a known but not yet industrialized synthesis, limiting the formation of by-products while safeguarding the economic and environmental sustainability of the process.
LIFE- Trialkyl project overcame such limitations after years of research, by developing an industrial production concept characterized by:
- use of anhydrous ammonia;
- well controlled in real time process parameters;
- temperature monitoring;
- multiple input cells to a one-stage reactor.
LIFE-Trialkyl meets the EU Research and Innovation policy by providing a solution that answers to the needs of a more green and sustainable chemistry.
First results showed an increasing efficiency towards the expected process indicators in terms of reaction yield, purity, energy consumption, waste reduction and water saving. In particular:
- water management: 100% water consumption saving and 100% waste water saving;
- energy consumption: 20-30% energy reduction;
- typology of intermediates and by-products;
- safer chemical processes.
LIFE-Trialkyl Project develops a technological innovation to produce trimethylphosphites, allowing an industrial production concept with a relevant concern on environmental and socio-economic impacts.
The products resulting out of LIFE- Trialkyl innovative process are widely used in the chemical industry as intermediates for agricultural and pharmaceutical applications as well as highly performing additives for the plastics industry, including, for example a more sustainable PVC.
For this reason, the LIFE-Trialkyl project has also a relevant socioeconomic impact. The production of TMPi in Europe will allow:
- the generation of a social care chemical industrial product, making phenol-free and more flexible products for the new demands of a market increasingly attentive to the sustainability;
- the reduction of long-distance transport by avoiding importation from Asia;
- the EU regained leadership in the chemical additives segment;
- the enhancement of circular economy in the chemical industry.
LIFE-Trialkyl represents an important innovation, in line with the European Environment Action Program to 2020.
- WATER, EMISSIONS, ENVIRONMENT AND WASTE MANAGEMENT
LIFE-Trialkyl innovation reduces the water required in the production process by up to 100% for the foreseen TMPi production in EU and wastewater production by 100% (~ 9 M l/y might be saved in the EU area). The only by-products of the process are TMPi and NH4Cl, which can be used as fertilizer, towards a circular economy.
In addition, LIFE-Trialkyl addresses energy consumption and reduces the TMPi production energy by 20-30%.
The chemical formulation and the new industrial process allow sustainable alternatives in terms of chemical reactions pathways and of industrial processing. Spreading the sustainability of results obtained will maximize the potential application of the technological innovation, also enhancing future collaborations with industrial and academic community.
The final analysis coming from the LCA showed that using the LIFE-Trialkyl process instead of the Triethylamine (TEA) based process to produce TMPi is clearly an environmental alternative.
In particular, the comparison of the LIFE-Trialkyl process with the TEA process shows the following results:
- Reduction of global warming potential: more than 90% (3.14 kg CO2 eq for the LIFE-Trialkyl process and 52.9 kg CO2 eq for the TEA process per kg of TMPi produced);
- Reduction of energy demand: more than 90% (64.6 MJ for the LIFE-Trialkyl process and 901.6 MJ for the TEA process per kg of TMPi produced);
- Reduction of water depletion: 60% (16.4 m3 for the LIFE-Trialkyl process and 43.6 m3 for the TEA based process for each kg of TMPi produced);
- Assuming a state-of-the-art TEA based process to produce 180 ton/year TMPi, 320.000 L/year of wastewater (Italmatch, Carlini 2017) have to be used for the recovery of tertiary amines. This process does not require additional water for the recovery of tertiary amines and the process water is reused and recovered in the pilot plant.
For all the results obtained, we can say that LIFE–Trialkyl was an innovative and challenging project contributing to a sustainable future!
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